Today there are constant reminders of a war that was fought when I was young. The daily toll of lives taken, the rehashing of the war records of two candidates, the images on the television.
To be sure, Iraq is not Viet Nam.
It’s not the same for our soldiers. They have the support of the public.
It’s not the same for me.
In 1967, I was a sophomore in high school, a somewhat introverted kid from Nebraska transplanted to the steamy heat of Houston, Texas. I was moving from a comfortable lower middle class life into poverty as a 15 year old. Viet Nam was a far distant place and not a true reality for me.
I graduated in 1970, still in the Houston area, from the same high school I had been in for two and a half years, even though we had moved five times. Still poor; I drew a high lottery number. Viet Nam was still unreal and far away, something in the papers every day and on the evening news. It was just a part of life.
I joined the Navy and got married. Our first daughter was born at Travis Air Force Base early in 1972. At that time, POWs were returning home, many of them for treatment in the same hospital my wife and baby daughter were in. But it was time for us to move on to our next duty station. Viet Nam was a closer reality, but I was in the Navy, not likely to have to go there, and, besides, it was just part of life.
Time passed and so did the Viet Nam conflict. It never was a war, they said. Just a conflict. It never was close to me.
I don’t remember when I first saw the memorial.
What I do remember is how striking it was. It fascinated me. It stunned me. It was emotionally painful. It brought tears to my eyes.
With all of the names on the wall and the little mementos left by family, friends, and comrades, the wall brought home to me some of the horrible reality and waste. The loss of all those young lives; the impact on families; the sons, husbands, and fathers who were lost; the terrible toll that it took on our country.
Iraq is not the same as Viet Nam… and it’s surely not for me.
Iraq is far away, but it is very, very real to me. It’s not just because my son-in-law is in the service and could be sent there. It’s the wall. It brought the reality of that long ago conflict and helps, for me, with the reality of today.
I fully endorsed the attack on Iraq. I thought it was a just cause. I was wrong. My belief is that it’s taken us off track in the war on terror. We’ve lost ground because of it and it’ll take much, much longer to get past it. I don’t know that it will ever be won. I expect it will eventually just fade away.
Viet Nam was just a part of life for me. The wall, with its simple stark beauty, showed me some of the terrible reality of a war we didn’t fight to win.
I just hope a memorial to the fallen in Iraq is not needed to teach anyone else that lesson for this conflict.
Update: January 1, 2007 — Around the time that I wrote this, I got back in touch, for the first time since 1971, with a friend from high school. She said she had wondered about me over the years and that, on a trip to D.C., she had searched for my name on that wall.
Post from a retired blog – North Farnham Freeholder – recovered from Internet Archive WayBackMachine 2/26/2011 – page